"Please Join Us - All Levels Welcome"
by Kristie Howard, WWCMA Founder and Co-Chair
If you were able to attend our sold-out Annual Conference at Gillette Stadium on September 20, you heard Kristie Howard, WWCMA Founder and Board Co-Chair, open the day with her gutsy personal story on how worksite wellness and leadership training influenced her personal and professional life. As a writer, I did not edit much of her speech. Her challenges and triumphs shine through in her own words. Enjoy Kristie’s insights and please share with others.
– Laura Polas, WWCMA Marketing & Communications Chair
One of the things I love about the Worksite Wellness Council of Massachusetts is that it draws such a diverse group of people, yet we’re all aligned in our collective Purpose: We’re passionate about helping improve employee health and well-being, and we’re here to learn and share as much as we can, so that we can go back to our workplaces and do things a little bit better than we did before.
I’d like to spend a few minutes exploring the theme of this conference. As a community of wellness professionals, we have come to understand that wellness efforts shouldn’t just be about assessments, screenings, and health risk reduction. Time and time again we’ve seen that employers have the most success when they address employee wellbeing beyond just physical health, and when they work to create conditions in which people can thrive.
In fact, the two most impactful things an employer has ever done for my personal wellbeing had NOTHING to do with a formal wellness program.
It was 2001. I was a year and a half out of college, young and ambitious. I’d just accepted a promotion and my employer relocated me to Boston, where I had no friends or family. I felt isolated, overwhelmed with my new job, and my weight had skyrocketed to the highest point ever. At a visit with my doctor, they said I was obese, and I was stunned. I knew I needed to change; I just didn’t have the motivation to take the first step.
It was then that I was invited to participate in the company’s leadership development training program, four full days of training with the company’s top leadership, from the CEO on down to little old me, a mid-level manager at the ripe old age of 24.
This was not your typical job or leadership training – it was a combination of skill training, and mindset/belief training. It teaches you how to think like Successful people: how to be Adaptable, Confident, Focused, Resilient, Creative, Accountable, Persistent, and Fearless.
The first two days focused on self-leadership: building motivation and personal responsibility to improve oneself. We were encouraged to focus on whatever we wanted, be it personal or professional goals. I recall being laser focused on two things: my weight, and my next career move.
Within a year, I had lost 50 lbs., was promoted again and accepted a position in sales, something I’d never believed I could do. To say that leadership training was a life changing experience may seem over the top, but it is true.
Fast forward to 2008. Lots of life had happened in those seven years – illness of a parent, two job changes, married, first house, and a dog. Though I’d kept most of the weight off, slowly it had crept up.
And then Wellness Gift number 2 happened.
I was working for a small company that had a work hard/play hard type of culture. It was very collaborative and social but was also competitive with an unusually high number of former athletes. I’d been there less than a year when I got an email inviting me to sign up for a charity road race. Now, I had figured out how to fit exercise into my life, but I never was a runner – in fact, I’d never run a mile in my life.
There was one seemingly small thing that pushed me over the edge to sign up. The email said, “Please Join Us - All Levels Welcome.” I thought, I could walk it. And maybe I can get another walker to sign up, so I’m not the only one. It is a few months away and maybe I could try my hand at running and see how I do. I got a walking buddy to sign up. I signed up for the Couch to 5k training program online. I got myself a great pair of running shoes… and I was off to the races.
Now, I’d like to tell you that I ran the entire 3.5 miles that year, but I’d be lying. Not that that matters. I remember vividly the amazing feeling I had the first time I ran past the one mile mark and then kept going another couple of minutes before I needed a walk break. I remember how amazing it felt two years later when I did run the entire 3.5 miles in that same charity race. And to this day, going for a run is my favorite form of exercise. While I’m running, I almost always reflect on how grateful I am that the person who sent the email said: “All Levels Welcome”.
Where am I in my personal wellness journey? With a one-year-old and four-year-old and working spouse at home, and working hard to advance in my career, I’ll admit that I’ve let my physical health slide a bit. I did my health assessment and screening this year to earn the wellness rate on my health insurance premiums. I even had a couple of calls with a health coach as part of my company’s wellness program. But what do I appreciate even more? That I have the flexibility to work from home, saving me the hour and a half commute, and I can go for a quick run or hop on my Peloton spin bike in between conference calls. That I’ve got tools available to help me track my personal finances and manage my budget, so I don’t have to be as stressed about money. That my company offers backup daycare that will send someone to my home to care for my kids when they’re sick, so I can be productive at work.
Reflecting on my personal wellness journey has caused me to think a little differently about how to make a real difference in employee wellbeing, and I hope it will do the same for you.